Pro-Bush group with almost $100 million to echo candidate

Jeb Bush
FILE - In this June 27, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits in a hallway after a campaign event in Henderson, Nev. Bush raised $11.4 million in 16 days after formally launching his campaign for president, his campaign said Thursday. The total is a fraction of what he has pulled in overall to support his White House ambitions. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Flush with almost $100 million, a group supporting Republican Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions is plowing ahead on a parallel campaign, promising to use its immense resources in a way that is untested but could revolutionize presidential politics.

Bush’s campaign reported Thursday that it raised $11.4 million in just six days, while an allied super PAC, Right to Rise America, raised $103 million during the first six months of the year and had $98 million on hand.

A picture began to emerge Friday about how the groups would work in concert, yet without formal coordination to spend their extraordinary haul in the face of federal laws that limit their communication. Interviews with Bush campaign aides, Right to Rise staff and donors to both groups revealed plans for Bush’s campaign to set the tone on policy and political messaging backed by the super PAC, which is poised to use multiplatform advertising directed at target audiences to amplify his message.

At the same time, Bush will pursue “an aggressive fundraising schedule” to help even the fundraising disparity between the formal campaign and Right to Rise, said spokesman Tim Miller.

“We’re two weeks into the campaign,” Miller said. “We’ve started the process of raising hard dollars necessary to run a grassroots campaign that combines our political efforts in the early states and beyond, a robust digital effort that promotes Jeb and his brand online, and allows him to travel the country and spread his message.”

The team is not expected to begin pouring money into television ads right away.

While the campaign has made modest early investments in online ads, it’s not expected to begin making more serious buys in early state TV ads this month. Those campaigns that have made such moves in recent days — among them Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — are working to boost their profiles to help qualify for next month’s opening debate, a problem Bush doesn’t have.

Bush’s campaign is bound by federally mandated campaign contribution limits — no more than $5,400 per person for the primaries and general election combined. Meanwhile, the super PAC can raise unlimited dollars, though it cannot coordinate activities with Bush’s campaign.

That’s why Bush, before he announced his candidacy, tapped his most trusted adviser, Sally Bradshaw, to lead the campaign and his longtime political and advertising strategist to run the super PAC.

Bush’s campaign will include the typical trappings of a modern campaign, with voter outreach, advertising, polling and, of course, a campaign’s most valuable asset, the candidate’s time. But Murphy, for now at least, has a vastly larger budget.

Right to Rise will develop Internet, mobile and television advertising by following closely what Bush says in public, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private strategy.

With a small staff — a handful now and no more than a dozen long-term — Murphy’s team is planning an elaborate data-gathering system to help determine, based on polling, how the group will deploy advertising in early voting states and perhaps swing-voting general election states this year.

At the same time, the former Florida governor’s team is forging ahead with aggressive new fundraising efforts to target smaller-dollar donors, whose support represents the everyday voters Bush needs once voting begins in less than seven months.

In announcing its fundraising Thursday, Right to Rise said it had about 9,400 donors who had given $25,000 or less, and about 500 who’d given more. Having made its mark in the big-money chase, the Bush campaign is focusing now on finding and cultivating small donors — people who would chip in $25 or so a few times over the Internet.

Separately, Jay Zeidman, a Houston-based fundraiser for Bush, said the campaign is focused on continuing to build on its initial $11.4 million because “those dollars are very, very important. It’s the front lines, the boots on the ground. The campaign is definitely front and center now.”

Bush’s early fundraising success has yet to scare any challenger from the race. Other Republicans are attempting to echo Bush’s operation. None, however, is expected to come close to the total Bush’s team amassed in the first half of 2016.

The strategy is the outgrowth of court decisions in 2010 that led to the creation of the super PAC. These groups are allowed to raise unlimited sums from wealthy donors and conduct political advocacy, as long as they do not coordinate their work with a candidate’s campaign organization.

Campaign finance watchdog groups are keeping close tabs on the interaction of presidential campaigns and super PACS.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which advocates for stricter campaign finance regulations, said he sees serious red flags.

“It’s obviously clear that the super PAC is, in fact, the Bush campaign committee,” Wertheimer said. “Our view is that it’s an illegal scheme.”

Democracy 21, he said, has sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding a criminal investigation of the Bush campaign and others who are “tied at the hip” with super PACS.

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Bustos reported from Washington.

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